A new entrant into SA’s olive oil industry has scooped top awards in just its second season of operation and has substantially increased the country’s production.
De Rustica Estates, situated near the Karoo village of De Rust at the foot of the Swartberg mountain range, produced 120000 litres of olive oil last season and expects to increase this to 200000l this year. It will constitute about 10% of South Africa’s total production, placing it at around third place among producers in terms of volume. The target is to produce 500000l/year in the next five years.
With South Africa consuming about 6m litres of olive oil every year, while producing just 2m litres, the farm’s production provides a ready substitution for imports.
De Rustica owner Rob Still says though South Africa’s olive oil industry is small, it punches above its weight in terms of quality.
“We produce high-quality olive oil in this country. South Africa wines, for example, are highly regarded internationally but they are not truly great. Our olive oil, on the other hand, can compete with the very best from anywhere in the world.”
Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity , which is about the global olive oil industry, gives credence to Still’s assessment, rating the best South Africa oil as “in the top 1% of 1% of the world”.
Still says the farm’s capture of three gold medals at the South Africa Olive awards, including that of top oil in the intense category, is “very encouraging”. Olive oil is categorised as delicate, medium and intense, and De Rustica won awards in all three categories.
“The farm is young and our production will increase substantially in coming seasons. But to enjoy the success we have so early into the venture is really because we are a premium producer and we are focused on quality. The more commercial farms do mechanical harvesting, which reduces quality and eliminates job opportunities.”
The farm has 125ha of plantings, but the plans are to increase this over time. De Rustica employs “30-odd” people permanently and about 150 on a seasonal basis during the harvesting season, which takes place from mid-March to early July.
“This region is the best climatic area in the country for olives, with colder winters and mild summers, and pure water off the Swartberg that contains no salt,” Still says.
Describing himself as “originally a mining man”, he says a motivation for the venture into olive oil was his desire to “do something” for the region, whose mainstay, the ostrich industry, has suffered a decline in recent years. The venture, he says, has provided an alternative for the region’s farmers, most of whom are involved in ostrich farming to at least some extent.
Marketing manager Rhys Ralph stresses that the awards were “a huge achievement”.
“No other big commercial farms – those producing more than 100000l/year – won awards. Besides our oils, all the others in the top five in each category came from small boutique farms. We have shown that volume does not have to compromise the highest quality.”
De Rustica’s managers are also proud of their labour and community initiatives, which include the refurbishment of a school and paying the fuel costs of transporting learners there and back home. A programme on foetal alcohol syndrome to educate pregnant women at local clinics has also been instituted.
In addition, Still has set up a fund to contribute R200000/year to causes in the local community that uplift the environment and promote tourism.
Nick Wilkinson, chairman of industry body South Africa Olive, welcomes De Rustica into the sector. He confirms that SA’s olive oil fits into “the top end of the quality profile” and says the industry’s main challenge at present is its battle with fraudulently labelled produce originating mainly in the EU.
In line with claims in Mueller’s book, Wilkinson says: “Most of the product from the EU is cheap, nasty, adulterated oil with no credibility that can be attached to the claims on the labels. On top of that, EU olive oil producers – the main ones are Spain, Italy and Greece – are subsidised by their governments so that they can keep the industry’s jobs for themselves.”
Wilkinson, who is also the owner of Rio Largo olive farm in the Cape, says one problem is that no import certificates are required for olive oil. Also, inspections are not as thorough as they should be.
Article source financialmailSouth Africa: New olive oil entrant scoops top awards,